If the mention of Panama City Beach brings to mind wild and crazy college students, we’ve got some news for you. The once-popular spring break destination is quietly becoming a year-round hot spot for families with kids. With its close proximity to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (just 20 minutes away!), its white sand beaches (27 miles of them!), and some super fun activities (water park, dolphin sightings, great eats…oh my!), this Gulf of Mexico getaway might be exactly what your family needs to relax and recharge.

Stay

Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort
This 110-acre property comes with a stunning 11 swimming pools, four hot tubs, and its own private half-mile beach. For land lovers there’s a 21-foot Sky Trail obstacle course, pool deck movie nights, tennis courts and a golf course. From one- to three-bedrooms, living areas, full kitchens, washer and dryer and private balconies, the room options and amenities here are out of this world. The hardest part about staying here will be trying to leave the resort grounds.

11212 Front Beach Rd.
Online: resortcollection.com

Sheraton Bay Point
Stay bayside at the 320-roomed, recently renovated Sheraton Bay Point Resort. One of the biggest perks to staying bayside is all of the wildlife you’ll see just mulling around (think: pelicans, lizards, frogs and dolphins. The resort also features a heated outdoor pool (and a cooler one!), a private, tide free bay beach, a golf course, tennis courts, a ginormous spa, an inflatable playground, a nearby State Park, and…STARBUCKS!

4114 Jan Cooley Dr.
Online: sheratonbaypoint.com

Play

Shell Island
Shell Island is a local fave for snorkeling in Panama City Beach for big kids and grown-ups. If you have tiny tots in tow, pack the puddle jumpers for splashing around the island’s shore. To begin your Shell Island snorkeling adventure, the Shell Island Shuttle will transport you over to the west end of Shell Island. This section of Shell Island, owned by St. Andrews State Park, is the best snorkeling Panama City Beach has to offer. Bring a light lunch picnic to enjoy on the boat ride over or back. And don’t forget to be on the lookout for dolphin families–they like to chill in the bay, too. 

5001 North Lagoon Dr.
Online: shellislandshuttle.com

Shipwreck Island Waterpark
This is not your typical rough and rumble waterpark. Designed for all ages, the twenty acre park is broken into quadrants–sections for the older kid set and sections for tots and babies. Any section where the two groups mingle is kept cool, calm, and collected thanks to a crew of professsionally trained aquatics staff that keeps rough play to a minimum. There are slides with quick moving lines, plenty of food options, and seating area galore.

12201 Hutchison Blvd.
Online: shipwreckisland.com

Gulf World Marine Park
You can’t leave Panama City Beach without running into at least one dolphin. You’ll actually hobnob with a slew of them at Gulf World, one of the city’s oldest attractions that offers close-up encounters with marine animals. Your family can meet dolphins and sea lions, be entertained by a magic show or musical performance, or learn about all of Gulf World’s conservation efforts for dolphins in the wild.

15412 Front Beach Rd.
Online: gulfworldmarinepark.com

Eat

Thomas Donuts & Snack Shop
Carb load before your day at the beach at this Panama City Beach Staple. From simple glazed donuts to 11 cream filling flavors, and ham and cheese kolaches to catfish fried sandwiches, this just-across-the-street-from-the-beach has been a shore thing for visitors and locals since 1971. 

19208 Front Beach Rd.
Online: thomasdonutandsnackshop.com

Andy’s Flour Power
Open only for breakfast and lunch, this Panama City Beach favorite uses the freshest ingredients for their flaky pastries, muffins, omelets and popular breakfast potatoes. Grown-ups watching carbs can order the flavorful roasted veggie frittata for any meal. The kids menu features mini sizes of some of the restaurants favorites, including cinnamon-dusted french toast and a strawberry topped waffle. If you wanna do Andy’s Flour Power like a local, eat cake–red velvet and chocolate (!!)–for breakfast. Don’t worry! You’ll burn it all off in the surf.

3123 Thomas Dr.
Online: http://andysflourpower.com/

Schooners
Enjoy live music, an oceanfront view of a beautiful sunset, and fresh seafood while dining at this laid back eatery. Don’t worry about shushing your babes; this open air spot embraces noise. In fact, a loud bell clangs every time the bar/waitstaff gets a great tip (hint-hint). Kids especially love the shrimp basket, key lime pie, and the ceremonial blasting of the cannon at sunset. Did we say it gets loud here?

5121 Gulf Dr.
Online: http://www.schooners.com

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—photos and story by Ayren Jackson-Cannady

This trip was paid for by Panama City Beach but all the opinions belong to the writer.